Perhaps the most most important and timely look to date at California's extraordinarily expensive prison problem is the Little Hoover Commission's latest report, Solving California's Corrections Crisis: Time is Running Out (Report #185, January 2007), available in pdf.
This is a report that ought to light the fire under legislators and opinion makers and force rational and rapid change in corrections. It is clear that the past solution to crises--building more prisons to solve community level problems--hasn't solved any (except political leaders' needs for 'tough on crime' appearances) and in fact makes them much worse: we have lost untold opportunities to fund alternative solutions to crime, our recidivism rates are extremely high despite the massive and record breaking investment in imprisonment, and looming and existing court orders to change the system fundamentally have created enormous pressures to solve the problem.
This report brings together just enough history of the system and the legislative responses to crime, along with the impact of these, to show how and why the prison and parole system consume such a huge and rapidly growing proportion of our state budget. It also provides many examples of how other jurisdictions have resolved the politically created problems that we have, clearly highlights the deadline (June of 2007) for solving these problems and what the consequences will be if we don't.
If there isn't a rapid solution the consequences will not be pretty for the legislature, the governor or CDCR (including the CCPOA), and they will be untenable for citizens as they see the price tag for corrections increase even more and watch federal and state judges take control of CDCR.
The time for drive-by sentencing reform solutions to crime problems is now over.